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Why Meaningful Work Matters — and How You Can Find It

Emma White | September 11, 2023

“I’m not happy with my job.”

At some point in our lives, we’ve all heard or said this sentence. But why? Is it because achieving “happiness at work” is our end-all, be-all destination? Or is it something a little different, a little deeper?

Happiness is a positive side effect from having a great job, but what truly brings lasting fulfillment, commitment and motivation is finding meaning in our work.

Meaningful work matters

Research from McKinsey & Company found that over the past 30 years, Americans have come to identify meaningfulness as the single most important aspect of a job — ahead of income, job security and the number of hours worked.

In fact, personal fulfillment can make us better employees, too. When workers find meaning in their jobs, not only does their performance improve by 33%, but they’re also 75% more committed to their organization and 49% less likely to leave.

Rather than perks and benefits packages, putting workplace fulfillment into these terms helps employees focus their efforts. And that effect lasts longer than a free lunch.

How to bring meaning to your work

Despite meaningfulness’ importance, that same McKinsey survey found only 50% of employees find meaning in their work. How can we find contentment in our jobs when it seems so elusive?

Meaningful work might be more attainable than you think — and it can be done by shifting your focus toward three important actions:

1. Be aware of meaningful moments around you

Harvard Business Review surveyed 90 people from four service-oriented occupations over a period of six weeks, asking each participant to reflect on what had happened to them at work that week. The result? When participants logged meaningful moments, their general satisfaction at work — and, importantly, their sense of meaning — increased significantly.

In other words, the search for meaning in your work requires reflection and awareness of those moments. With a slight shift in perspective, even those who tend to dwell on the negative can find contentment in places they otherwise wouldn’t.

2. Connect to a team

Connecting to your co-workers and being part of a team is a critical step toward increasing work satisfaction, productivity and meaningfulness. It can also manifest a sense of buy-in that is extremely hard to fake. To this end, a recent Gallup study found that individuals with a work best friend are more likely to take actions that benefit their organization.

So join teams and champion cooperation. Don’t overlook the benefit of social outings and networking events. Participate in interoffice communication, even if it’s not 100% work-related.

3. Contribute to the bigger picture

Ever looked a company’s mission statement and said to yourself, “Hey, I’m down with that”? Businesses draft mission statements for organizational guidance, but they can also bring to light our own big-picture values in the process.

Start by creating your own career mission statement, then evaluating the values of your company and finding alignment between the two. When you focus your energy and time the way we all have to at work, it’s worth taking a step back to discover the values you want to share with the organization.

Because ultimately, finding meaning at work is about finding a purpose-driven environment that allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself. So if you’re looking for your next opportunity, prioritize organizations whose values align with your own.

Find a work environment where meaning can thrive

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “the key to meaningful work is [for employers] to create an ecosystem that encourages people to thrive.” We can find ways to create meaning in our work, but sometimes that’ll only take us so far. To truly inspire and motivate employees, organizations must create an environment built on a foundation of meaning and fulfillment.

At Paycom, we strive to provide our people with a strong mix of benefits, growth opportunities and purpose in the work we do. It’s how we’ve built values and culture that give our work meaning.

Want to be part of an environment where you can thrive? Find purpose in your work and apply to Paycom today!

About the author
Author picture, Emma White
Emma White
As an employer brand marketer at Paycom, Emma White helps broaden the employer brand and increase brand awareness. Emma is a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University, where she earned degrees in marketing and management. Her work on Paycom’s recruitment marketing team includes company culture, careers and social media content. Outside work, Emma's hobbies include art, reading, exploring new places in OKC and spending time with friends.